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The Search for Alfred the Great
The Search for Alfred the Great
Wednesday 08 November, 2017
Report on the Relics Cluster talk by Dr Katie Tucker (Winchester) on King Alfred the Great.
For the last 4 years, osteoarchaeologist Katie Tucker has been studying human remains that it has been speculated may have belonged to King Alfred the Great (AD 849-899). On the 8th November, Katie came to Keble and gave a talk on this recent work and her findings.
Her research started in 2013 with the exhumation of some bones from an unmarked grave in the churchyard of the Parish Church of Hyde in Winchester, believed to be the final burial place of King Alfred the Great. Katie physically analysed these bones and found there were actually 6 people in the grave. However something unexpected was observed: the concrete used for the grave and other details were Victorian, but if indeed here laid the remains of King Alfred, how did he get there?
The answer to the above is unknown but Katie presented a series of findings which might help explain how the bones ended in this Victorian grave in Hyde Abbey. The King is understood to have been originally buried in Winchester’s Old Minster in 899 but then the king’s remains –and those of his wife Ealhswith- were transferred by his eldest son Edward in 903 to the New Minster. These remains were moved again from the New Minster in 1110 to Hyde Abbey where they stayed (at least) until 1538 with the dissolution of Hyde Abbey. The new Winchester prison was then built on the same site in 1788. Records mentioned the discovery and looting of artefacts from three graves found in front of the site of the high altar and scattering of the bones. The amateur archaeologist John Mellor began digging at the site in 1866. Katie explained that John was a fanatic of King Alfred and carried out a number of excavations in Hyde Abbey looking for the King’s remains. The bones he found were later exhibited, and apparently bought by the vicar of Hyde parish church and reburied in an unmarked grave. But did John Mellor really manage to find the remains of Alfred the Great? Radiocarbon dating of the remains exhumed showed the bones belonged to persons who lived between the 12th and 15th centuries, much later than the king.
During excavations in 1997 inside and outside Hyde Abbey, associated with a project to find what happened after the dissolution of the Abbey (1538), a number of human remains were found from various contexts in the east end of the abbey church and stored in boxes. Dr Tucker examined these remains and found a piece of a pelvis that was commensurate with a male in his 40s. Radiocarbon dating of the pelvis placed it between AD 895-1017, a date that fits for either King Alfred or his eldest son Edward – who, was also buried in Hyde Abbey.
Katie is working on other ways to find out if this piece of pelvis is indeed from King Alfred or Edward. The next steps are the study of mortuary chests found in Winchester Cathedral, there is an indication that one of these may contain the remains of Alfred’s father. The next step in this puzzle is to look for DNA matches between these remains, those of the pelvis and analysis of the remains of Queen Eadgyth –Alfred’s grand-daughter.
Relics Cluster
Photo: Katie Tucker (second left) with Relic Cluster members Georges Kazan, Prof. Tom Higham, Eleanor Farber, Jamie Cameron.